Earlier this month MovingPicturesNetwork.com named The Lorax movie, a computer-animated adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book, one of the ten best environmental films in history. This declaration might seem a bit premature, given that it comes several months before the film's release in March, 2012. Considering the spotty record of past Seuss adaptations (did anyone like The Cat in the Hat?), you'd think they'd want to see the final product first, right? Then again, the film producers would really have to butcher the source material beyond recognition for The Lorax not to be regarded as a major movie about environmentalism. But how strongly will the message be delivered?
There's good reason to believe the film will be a successful interpretation of the original. Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul also wrote the screenplay for Horton Hears a Who, considered perhaps the most successful Seuss adaptation to date. It proved that CGI suits the world of Dr. Seuss just fine. Lorax also comes from Illumination Entertainment, the studio behind the bona fide hit Despicable Me. In addition Audrey Geisel, widow of Ted (Dr. Seuss), is on board as an executive producer, as she was with Horton. And check out the cast: Danny DeVito (as the Lorax), Ed Helms (The Once-ler), Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White, and Rob Riggle.
All the right ingredients are there, but as with any Seuss movie, the primary concern is the screenplay. The only way to make a feature-length film out of a 72-page children's book is to add stuff. And when you add stuff, you generally wind up changing some of the original stuff. Again, Daurio and Paul managed to pull it off with Horton. JoJo, for instance, who made a sudden appearance at the end of the book, was further developed as the Mayor of Whoville's moody son, a dreamer. Such a change does not necessarily betray the spirit of Seuss's original vision, so let's not get all bent out of shape if the movie strays from the book.
It will be interesting to see how grim the film will go in portraying the destruction of the land in pursuit of profit. Sure, a little movie called Avatar did pretty well at the box office with this theme. But this is far more of a family film. Heavy-handed promotion of environmental causes, big-business bashing, and anti-consumerist diatribe might provoke some anti-Lorax speech from Rush Limbaugh types. And then there's the book itself, which ends with (spoiler alert!) an utterly devastated land and a tiny ray of hope. Obviously, the implication is that that one Truffula tree seed will be the first tree of a new forest, but surely the film show that forest and conclude with overwhelming joy. Right?
The film's release is still several months away. Zillions of us Seuss fans are hoping for a worthy addition to the Seuss filmography, but it will take a successful marketing campaign, positive critical review, and strong word-of-mouth to make it a hit beyond that opening weekend. If a tree falls in the woods on the big screen and nobody is there to see it, does it still make a thneed that we need?